By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 13, 2009
The Department of Veterans Affairs today will begin a review of last week's confiscation of a WAMU radio reporter's recording equipment during a public forum at the VA hospital in the District.
"We want to do a top-to-bottom review in order to learn what happened, why it happened, and what lessons can be learned from the experience," VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said in a statement yesterday. "We need to grow from this incident in order to determine how we can better provide media access while supporting the privacy of our Veterans."
The internal investigation will explore the actions taken by security guards and hospital public affairs officer Gloria Hairston, who confiscated the sound card from David Schultz's digital recorder during a town hall meeting at the hospital Tuesday night.
VA officials contend that Schultz did not properly identify himself as a reporter. The VA's Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans organized the meeting to hear comments about the medical care such former military personnel receive. Schultz said he attended the meeting in the hospital's auditorium after learning about it from a VA news release.
Army veteran Tommie Canady told the committee that he had received poor treatment at Washington's VA hospital. Shortly thereafter, Schultz invited Canady into the hallway for a recorded interview.
Moments into the interview, according to Schultz, Hairston approached them, telling Schultz that he could not interview Canady until they both signed consent forms. She summoned hospital security guards and demanded that Schultz hand over his equipment. After consulting WAMU news director Jim Asendio by phone, Schultz gave Hairston the equipment and left the hospital.
WAMU later aired three reports Schultz filed about the incident and Canady's experiences at the hospital. After similar reports on the incident by The Washington Post and other news outlets, and two letters of protest from journalists rights groups, a VA official returned the equipment to Asendio on Friday night.
"From day one [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki has made it a top priority to understand where within the department we can improve our processes, procedures and services," Roberts said in her statement. "We want to become an agile organization that is equipped to respond quickly and find solutions. We now have a unique opportunity to create the needed change to become an efficient organization built on the strength of corporate structure, accountability and transparency."